Developmental study of treatment fidelity, safety and acceptability of a Symptoms Clinic intervention delivered by General Practitioners to patients with multiple medically unexplained symptoms

Lakrista Morton, Alison Elliott, Ruth Thomas, Jennifer Cleland, Vincent Deary, Christopher Burton

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There is a need for primary care interventions for patients with multiple medically unexplained symptoms (MUS). We examined whether GPs could be taught to deliver one such intervention, the Symptoms Clinic Intervention (SCI), to patients. The intervention includes recognition and validation of patients' symptoms, explanation of symptoms and actions to manage symptoms.


We conducted an uncontrolled observational study in North East Scotland. GPs were recruited and received two days of structured training. Patients were identified via a two stage process (database searching followed by postal questionnaire) and received the SCI intervention from a GP in their practise.

Treatment fidelity was assessed by applying a coding framework to consultation transcripts. Safety was assessed by examining changes in patient symptom (PHQ-15) and checking for unexpected events. Acceptability was primarily assessed by patient interview.


Four GPs delivered the SCI to 23 patients. GPs delivered all core components of the SCI, and used the components flexibly across the consultations and between patients. They spent more time on recognition than either explanation or actions components. 10 out of 17 patients interviewed described feeling validated, receiving useful explanation and learning actions. 9 out of 20 patients (45%) reported an improvement in PHQ-15 of between 3 and 8 points. Patients who reported the most improvement also described receiving all three components of the intervention.


GPs can be taught to deliver the SCI with reasonable fidelity, safety and acceptability, although some items were inconsistently delivered: further training would be needed before use.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-43
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Psychosomatic Research
Early online date18 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2016



  • medically unexplained symptoms
  • observational study
  • intervention
  • primary care

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